x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Nuclear Middle East a 'threat' to world peace

The UAE's foreign minister warns states in the region that not committing to being nuclear-free could threaten global peace and security.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's foreign minister has warned other states in the region that not committing to a nuclear-free Middle East could lead to far-reaching conflicts and threaten global peace and security. "Threats on the ground create a strong case for making the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said. "Any situation to the contrary would open the door for continuous conflicts and threaten regional and international peace and security."

Addressing a gathering of ministers and senior officials from the Middle East, North Africa, the subcontinent and the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations, Sheikh Abdullah said that "prevailing regional frustration" over the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process stressed the need to rid the region of nuclear weapons. He also said there were "pressing issues" that stood in the way of a "prosperous and peaceful future" for the Middle East: a lack of development, illiteracy, extremism and unemployment.

The UAE has endorsed a UN draft resolution that calls for a "nuclear weapon free zone" in the Middle East. The resolution, sponsored by Egypt, was released last week and supported by other Arab League members. It suggests that governments "declare solemnly that they will refrain, on a reciprocal basis, from producing, acquiring or in any other way possessing nuclear weapons". "The only solution is with an area clean of weapons of mass destruction," Amr Musa, the Arab League's secretary general, said on the sidelines of the meeting. "This applies to everyone: Egypt, Syria, Iran, Israel."

The draft UN resolution notes that Israel is the only country in the region that is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Officials have long assumed that Israel has nuclear weapons, while Iran and Syria are suspected of running nuclear-weapons programmes. The UAE has repeatedly voiced its support for the right of the region's states, including Iran, to develop peaceful nuclear energy programmes.

In a document evaluating the potential of a UAE nuclear energy programme, the Government stressed its commitment to operational transparency and standards of non-proliferation. Officials from more than two dozens countries met with representatives from non-governmental organisations at the fifth Forum for the Future. They discussed several issues including political reforms and the empowerment of women in the region which ranges from Pakistan to Morocco.

The forum is an annual gathering launched in 2004 after a summit between G8 countries and representatives of the Broader Middle East and North Africa region. In his speech, Sheikh Abdullah said regional and international "upheavals" demanded "joint intensive and continued efforts to surmount them wisely, rationally and with political foresight and will". "Our country ? contributes to initiatives that seek to overcome hunger, poverty, illiteracy and epidemics around the world, stabilise oil and financial markets."

He added that the UAE pursued cross-border efforts to bring about "peace and stability, as well as renounce violence, extremism, and terror". Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan foreign minister, praised the UAE's continued financial and political support of his country. In an interview, he said the Emirates' efforts to normalise relations between the Afghan and Pakistani governments were fruitful. "The UAE encourages us and is active in bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan closer together for the past four years," Mr Spanta said. "Now we have a positive relation with the newly elected government."

"The UAE is active in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," he said. "We appreciate this friendly and peaceful presence of the UAE. Mr Spanta noted that the UAE is the biggest contributor to the reconstruction of Afghanistan in the Islamic world. Earlier this month, Dr Mohammed Anwar Gargash, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, said stability in Afghanistan was "extremely important" and amicable relations between it and Pakistan were crucial to peace.

The UAE has stationed troops in Afghanistan since 2003. Their mission is mainly delivering humanitarian aid. mhabboush@thenational.ae